In my day job I’m somewhat of a security oriented individual, and I was recently asked to give a short class to some folks on how to prep for evacuation using a 72 hour bag, and how to shelter in place at home and abroad. The shelter in place part is relatively easy at home, and if you are in a hotel, just bring extra door wedges, zip ties, and duct tape to reinforce the doors until you are ready to go out (door wedges to keep the door shut, duct tape to keep the door wedges in place, and zip ties to lock the return arm mechanism shut). But there is always the horrible scenario of being caught in a fifth floor or higher hotel room and all the stairs and elevators are blocked because of fire, so what do you do there? Go out the window, if you can of course.
Recently an “escape backpack” system has been making the facebook rounds, evidently marketed by SkySaver. I have never used the product, and by all accounts it looks like a great product, I do know that I can replicate the functionality of the skysaver backpack with a carabiner, parachute cord, and training. What the backpack option gives you is the ability to minimize the “training” part of the equation and just put it on and go. What the training option gives you is a much smaller survival tool set to carry with you, a smallish pouch instead of a dedicated backpack.
But, if you want a compact emergency abseiling or rappelling option you’ll need: a rope to tie a swiss seat or a descent harness of some sort, double the length of your intended descent in paracord (I recommend spending the extra money on 750 or 850 cord over 550, but that’s like an extra ten bucks depending on where you buy), a carabiner (or more), and knowledge of how to tie knots. Total cost, less than 100 bucks for a 500 foot spool of 750 paracord (good for 200 foot descents plus a little) and a carabine and a twelve food section of rope along with some cheap leather gloves.
There are a LOT of youtube videos on how to use paracord as an emergency descent option. It works, it isn’t particularly safe, but it’s safer than being trapped in a burning hotel, or locked into an office with an active shooter approaching.
That being said, getting out via the window or balcony should be your very last option. If you have space in your emergency kit for carabiners, rope, and paracord you should also be rocking some door stoppers and zip ties to reinforce the door to the room you are staying in. If you need to get out, you should buy yourself as much time as you can to do it safely by making it harder for the bad guys (or fire) to get in.
Things you should do if you have to rappel down:
1. Use three anchor points. These can be on pieces of furniture that won’t fit through the window, but use more than one.
2. Use good anchor knots, I’m partial to figure 8 knots but really any safe non-constricting knot will work.
3. Inspect your paracord once, then S fold it into a compact storage shape and put it away. Don’t re-use your paracord if you can possibly avoid it, just keep it in your kit for a real emergency. Ropes and cordage lose strength with use, and the reason you need twice as much paracord as you plan on using is so that you can use two strands for redundancy.
4. Know your knots, know your techniques, and practice them from time to time. When relying on skill instead of technology, you need your skill to be ready to go, not rusty. You’ll want to be familiar with the figure 8, bowline, swiss seat, and Munter hitch. If you include a quick reference chart in your kit it might not be a bad idea.
Odds are you’ll never have to egress out the fifth story window of a hotel, but being prepared means that you don’t have to roll the dice and hope the odds are ever in your favor. Especially if you end up being somewhere that having the appropriate means to respond to aggression is illegal. When you can’t fight, fleeing is a pretty darn good option.
And, while rappelling on paracord is a patently stupid thing to do, a much more sober rappel master from the 101st has demonstrated that it can be done, although he didn’t use a Munter hitch, he just wrapped the cord around the carabiner “about twenty times” and rappelled down. So if a drunk Screaming Eagle soldier can do it, I’m sure that should you need to you can too. Comments are open.